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Canadian Story No. 4 CANADIAN STORY: Created June, 2010, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East SURVIVING THE GAZA AID FLOTILLA ATTACK – CANADIAN KEVIN NEISH Kevin Neish, a veteran activist and retired mechanics instructor from Victoria, B.C., knew the aid ships laden with passengers and humanitarian supplies would likely be intercepted by the Israeli military. But Neish could never have anticipated the ordeal that began when Israeli soldiers in Black Hawk helicopters opened fire, and Israeli commandos descended on the Mavi Marmara early on May 31, 2010. The international condemnation of Israel’s actions that day forced Israel to somewhat ease its blockade on Gaza, but only at the price of the lives of nine of Neish’s shipmates. Neish got involved with the Gaza Freedom Flotilla because he felt the Israeli blockade of the territory had more to do with punishing the people of Gaza than stopping weapons from being smuggled into the coastal strip. “Why else were shoes, clothes, school supplies, kitchen spices, fruits, vegetables and such on the blockade list for three long years?” he said. Aid trip turned tragic The passengers on the Mavi Marmara were mainly from Turkey and Arab countries but also from Norway, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, the US, Canada, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and Britain. There was one child and many elderly people onboard as well. Neish was only on the ship for a couple of days before the attack, but he saw the passengers talking, singing, laughing, sharing food, and participating in group discussions and prayer services. Everyone onboard seemed happy and excited. “These were not Jihadists,” Neish said. “They were a bunch of working stiffs and retired folks.” According to Neish, on the evening of May 30, Israeli ships started to appear on the horizon. In anticipation of imminent Israeli action, the passengers donned lifejackets and prepared fire hoses, flood lights and wooden poles to try to push the Israeli boats away. At around 4:00 a.m. on May 31, helicopters appeared above the flotilla, hovering just above the Mavi Marmara. Without warning, the Israelis attacked with rubber bullets, sound grenades and tear gas. Witnesses including a journalist with Al Jazeera report that soldiers in the Israeli helicopters opened fire on the deck, killing and injuring activists. A few Israeli commandos rappelled onto the deck, but were overpowered by some of the passengers and taken below deck. The initial attack on the stern occurred close to where Neish was located below deck. Neish considered it excessively dangerous, so he moved to the internal stairwell linking decks 2, 3 and 4 (the top deck). During the remainder of the attack, Neish stayed below deck, and tried to photograph people and developments there. Among them, he photographed the captured Israeli commandos – concerned that they be properly treated. Neish noted that the Israelis were taken inside the ship, away from the fighting and not harmed once they were disarmed. But then the shooting on deck intensified and Neish observed more and more dead and wounded passengers being carried down through the ship’s stairwell to the medical stations. From Neish’s perspective below deck, two incidents marked that bloody morning: In one incident, Neish watched the life slowly slipping away from a man wearing an embroidered outfit, propped up against a wall with a bullet in his chest. Neish took a photo of the man as he desperately tried to Neish in the stairwell of the Mavi Marmara, holding a booklet found on one of the Israeli commandos. The booklet contained pictures of key flotilla passengers. breathe. A moment after he took the photo, the man died. At another point during the Israeli boarding, an Israeli soldier opened a door on the ship and stuck his machine gun through the doorway and started firing wildly. A volley of bullets pockmarked the stairwell while Turkish aid workers hit the barrel of the gun with a pipe. One of them managed to pull the door shut. Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East: Informed Advocacy for Justice email@example.com Surviving capture by the Israelis According to Neish, when the ship’s captain announced over the public address system that the Israelis were now in charge of the ship, the aid workers dropped their makeshift arms and went to the passenger lounges as they were instructed. Israeli Arab Member of the Knesset Hanin Zuabi and a British woman tried to negotiate with the soldiers to obtain medical treatment for the wounded. But by the time the wounded were moved out several hours later, three more had died. The Israelis handcuffed Neish and his fellow passengers on the ship, and confiscated their personal items. Neish admitted being very frightened when, just after his capture, he was held with others outside on deck 3. He and the others passengers were under threat of being shot or beaten by the surrounding Israeli soldiers, and told not to stand up or move around in any way. Neish had $4,000 to hold him over during his anticipated stay in Gaza as a human rights observer with the International Solidarity Movement. The money, his cell phone and wallet were taken by the Israelis and never returned. While the ship was being taken to Ashdod, the passengers were forced to beg to be permitted to use the bathroom. The Israeli soldiers yanked on the plastic handcuffs of prisoners they didn’t like, which cut off the circulation and made their hands go numb. This was done to Neish three times, but he noticed that the Turks and Arabs around him had their handcuffs jerked numerous times. Neish was not permitted to use the bathroom the first 15 hours. So, despite the stifling heat, he did not drink any water the last eight hours to not have to urinate. Once the ships arrived in Israel, people suspected of having camera chips hidden on their bodies were thoroughly searched. For his part Neish was one of the last passengers to be processed, and was not taken off the ship until more than 24 hours after the attack. The Israelis took Neish to Beershiva prison where he and other prisoners were given frozen loaves of bread and cucumbers, their first meal in over 36 hours. The prison was modern but unfinished so there were no drinking water taps available. The Israelis gave the prisoners foul-smelling, rotten blankets full of holes and sand. During the night the Israeli prison wardens would yell to wake up the prisoners and interrupt their sleeps. Kevin Neish hugs his daughter Jennifer on arrival at Victoria Airport several days after his shocking experiences with the Gaza aid flotilla attack and aftermath. (Carmine Marinelli, 24 HOURS) Getting back home Canadian embassy officials eventually found Neish on the evening of his second day of captivity by wandering through the cell blocks calling out his name. They told him they had been looking for him, but that the Israelis wouldn’t give them any precise information on his whereabouts. The only way they could locate him was by calling out his name repeatedly while walking among the cellblocks in the prison. After two days, the prison authorities deported Neish and the remaining activists to Turkey. Despite his ordeal Neish says he may go on another aid ship flotilla. Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East: Informed Advocacy for Justice firstname.lastname@example.org avi Marmara, holding a booklet found on one of the Israeli commandos. The booklet contained pictures of key flotilla passengers. breathe. A moment after he took the photo, the man died. At another point during the Israeli boarding, an Israeli soldier opened a door on the ship and stuck his machine gun through the doorway and started firing wildly. A volley of bullets pockmarked the stairwell while Turkish aid workers hit the barrel of the gun with a pipe. One of them managed to pull the door shut. Canadians for Justice and Peace i